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Central Asia

 

The third group of the former Soviet republics with common geopolitical characteristics is located in central Asia. It includes the four newly independent states of Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Their geographical position makes them a buffer zone separating Russia from direct contact with the Islamic countries of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, and also from India and China.  

The republics themselves gravitate toward an Islamic orientation. The ethnic, religious, and political makeup of these countries, in particular, of Tajikistan, do not augur well for their long-term stability. The chief cause of the regions volatility is ideological pressures generated by Islamic fundamentalism.

With the breakup of the USSR local Communist elites jettisoned the Communist ideology and managed to preserve their dominant position. On the whole, they remain friendly and loyal to their big northern neighbor. The four states also retain substantial Russian-speaking populations. The alliance with Russia helps them to keep in check a potentially explosive situation within their own borders. Tajikistan, which has suffered from a violent civil war between Islamic fundamentalists and government forces, has accepted a status akin to that of a protectorate of Russia.

It is impossible to predict how long the present pragmatically minded politicians will remain in power in these states. Russia is obviously interested in preserving the buffer of stable central Asian republics as a shield against Islamic fundamentalism. The recent acquisition by India and Pakistan of nuclear weapons has been another dangerous development in the area.

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